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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Follow up to 10 Questions to Ask Your Pastor

A couple of days ago, I published a post that I got from a site called Daylight Atheism, entitled: 10 Questions to Ask Your Pastor. While I would modify the list if I were writing it myself, I thought it best to just copy and paste the questions from the other blog. Some of the questions are better than others but, all in all, I think its a good set of questions that would knock most evangelical pastors on their heels.

A Catholic gentlemen, RD Miksa, has responded to the questions and I appreciate his efforts in tackling these issues. Unlike some who just summarily dismiss them, he has made a good attempt to deal with the questions.

Below are his responses and my rebuttals.

Good Day Sir,

Interesting questions, but ultimately not too difficult. Here are my answers with three caveats:
Please remember that I said in my original post that I also had "answers" to each of these questions. I provided these answers to my students when I was a College instructor. However, as I also said, I was never fully satisfied with my answers. On further reflection, they seemed to be contrived and thus, while theoretically possible, I did not find them probable.

Caveat 1: I am a Catholic and approach the topic from this angle;

Fair enough but keep in mind that my blog is entitled, Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity, not Why I De-Converted from Roman Catholicism. My background and experience is from the evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant tradition. Thus, these questions are primarily directed at people in that same tradition. If I were going to write 10 Questions to Ask Your Priest, I would include an entirely different set of questions.
Caveat 2: Obviously my responses will only touch upon the surface of each issue as this is just a blog comment after all;

Caveat 3: For considerations of time and space, I will answer each question with a separate comment.

Understood. Blogs do not lend themselves to in-depth discussion of topics. Whole books have been written on most of these questions and I would encourage the serious student to read them.

1. Why is God called loving or merciful when, in the Old Testament's stories of the Israelite conquest, he specifically orders his chosen people to massacre their enemies, showing no mercy to men, women, even children and animals?

RD Miksa answers:
How is it possible to reconcile what seems to be the biblical injunction by God to kill many, even the most innocent of children, and God’s supposed love? How could this be love? How could this be benevolence? Truly, could a reconciliation of these two factors even be possible? Indeed it could, and through various means, arguments and tactics no less. Yet of these various means, it is only one that will be raised here. For one of the ways that have been put forth to reconcile the harsh passages concerning God’s command to kill the innocent and with the idea of God’s love is through the understanding and application of both the chance for eternal life for the innocents, as well as God’s knowledge of all possible worlds. First, let it be clear that one should not have great problems with the killing of the adults that these passages describe, for the obvious reason concerning moral culpability for which such adults are responsible.

I need to make several points here.

1. Man's moral understanding has greatly evolved since the Bronze Age. Today, in the USA at least, we take great efforts to avoid killing anyone who is not a military combatant. We recognize that every civilian in a population is not necessarily in agreement with their government or leaders in fighting the war and therefore not culpable.

2. At the time these genocidal commands were given by Israel's god, it was not an unusual thing. As a matter of fact, it was commonplace for tribal deities to give such commands. For example, see Divine war in the Old Testament and in the ancient Near East by Sa-Moon Kang.

Why should YHWH be any different than the other tribal deities? He shouldn't if the deities are all inventions of the cultures. However, if he is the one true God, holy and loving, then he should be different. To me it is much more probable to believe that the Israelites had simply invented a deity that was much like the other deities around them.

3. The OT says that the Canannites were put "under the ban" (Hebrew, cherem). Susan Niditch in her book, War in the Hebrew Bible sees two purposes in cherem. One is as a sacrifice to God (The Ban as God's portion) and second is as the judgment of God (The Ban as God's Justice). This second position is seen by virtually all who write on the subject as a main reason for the cherem (including RD Miksa). They argue that the Canaanites and the Amalekites were corrupt and thus deserving of the judgment of God.(I think its more likely that they just happened to be on the land that the Israelites wanted. Countries often demonize their enemies). However, her first reason is not often cited in the literature as one of the motivations behind cherem.

The Ban as God's Portion is the title of Chapter One of Niditch's book. On p. 29 she writes:

In a non-war context Lev. 27:28 states that anything a man devotes to God (cherem verb used) from among his possessions--human beings (i.e., slaves), animals or agricultural holdings--cannot be purchased or redeemed. 'Every devoted thing (cherem) is a holy of holies to God." In a similar vein, Lev. 27:21 juxtaposes 'holy to God' with cherem in reference to a person's pledge of land. That which is cherem in these contexts is not a destroyed item or person but a possession devoted and sacrificed, given up for the use of God or his priests (see also Ezek. 44:29). (p. 29).

Thus according to Niditch, in certain cases when the Israelites would go to war they would make a vow to YHWH to sacrifice all the booty to Him in exchange for His help in accomplishing a victory. She cites Num. 21:2-3 as an example.

And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy (cherem) their cities. And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.
She further cites Judges 11:30-31 as a parallel passage(p.33).

She argues that since human beings are the most valuable of all the booty, to offer them up to YHWH was an especially strong vow. The Israelites thought that by doing so, they would ensure YHWH's help in securing a victory.

RD Miksa continues:
Now, if God saves the innocent, which with the Holy Martyrs there is Catholic precedent for his doing, and with his absolute knowledge, God may know that in every possible world, the persons that are the infants in this one would have freely chosen salvation. Thus in this world, God kills them as infants, ensuring their eternal salvation, which they would have freely chosen anyway in every other possible world. Yet at the same time, God has chosen this course of action because it creates opportunity for other individuals who might not have been eternally saved without it, to be eternally saved. For example, perhaps God knows that only by seeing her baby killed for the horrid sins that she made and promoted, the baby’s mother would repent. In having the baby killed, God thus saves two people rather than one. In terms of eternal importance, therefore, more individuals are saved via the death of infants than not, but all persons that would have been saved if they had not died—meaning the infants—are saved anyway. And so love is reconciled with the command to kill innocents.


I find this answer to be "ad-hoc." There is no basis in the biblical texts that deal with the genocides to come to this conclusion. While theoretically it could be correct, it does not seem probable.

Furthermore, it creates the problem that RD Miksa and Michael Mock argued over in the comment section of the post. Any religion that holds its actually a good thing to kill infants and toddlers is in my mind morally bankrupt and not worthy of my adherence.

2. Does it make sense to claim, as the Bible does, that wrongdoing can be forgiven by magically transferring the blame from a guilty person to an innocent one, then punishing the innocent person?

My Catholic friend responds:
Absolutely. Not only does this make sense in the Bible, it easily makes sense today in a manner that is analogous to the Biblical claim. For example, Bill is the loving son of his loving father Jack. Bill is also good friends with Ted, who also works for Bill’s father Jack. Now, Ted borrows some money from Jack, but is unable to pay when payment is due. Jack, being angry with this, plans to throw Ted in jail. Bill, however, intervenes with his father Jack and tells his father that he will pay for Ted’s debt with his own money. Jack, loving his son as he does, agrees to this because of the love that he has for his son Bill. And thus Ted’s debt is paid through no merit of his own and solely by Bill’s grace. And lest you think that this analogy is too abstract, I actually did this with one of my friends that broke something in the house but could not afford to pay, so I told my parents that I would pay for him and they accepted. He was guilty and I innocent, but I paid for his mistake.

I have dealt with your answer in detail previously. The main point is that while monetary debts can be transferred, moral debts cannot. To make this clear, lets change your illustration to say that Ted kills Jack. Ted is taken to court and confesses that he killed Jack and that he is very sorry he did so. The judge sentences Ted to death. Bill, however, steps in and tells the judge that he knows Ted deserves to die for his crime but begs the judge to punish him instead. Would any judge allow Bill to die in the place of his Ted? Of course not, its counterintuitive to our innate sense of justice (which sense of justice is from God, according to Christians).

3. Why does the Bible routinely depict God as manifesting himself in dramatic, unmistakable ways and performing obvious miracles even before the eyes of nonbelievers, when no such thing happens in the world today?

RD Miksa replies:

Three points reference this question:

1. There was no such thing as today’s naturalistic-unbelieving-atheist in Biblical times. Everyone believed in some type of deity or deities, so the only question was which deity, not whether said deity existed or not. This means that God’s glorious manifestations in biblical times would not have overridden an unbeliever’s unbelief, only re-directed the belief of an already deity-believing individual to the Biblical God through the miraculous. Thus the free will and free desire to reject God through the denial of his existence, as is the case with in modern times with atheists, is not overridden through the miraculous today.

I think your answer is misguided. If a miracle could convince a believer in a false deity to switch allegiance, I see no reason why a miracle could not convince an atheist to believe, assuming it was a verifiable miracle. It could just be that people in the ancient times, because of their superstitions, were more gullible in accepting a purported miracle than we are today.

2. There is an assumption in your question that these things do not happen, but that only means that they do not happen where you are or where you have been. In contrast to this claim, I have but to present many claims of miracles that are occurring across the world in different areas to show that they do happen in different regions (see below).

3. Finally, miracles still do occur. The miracles of Lourdes and Fatima (70,000 people in a 20 kilometre radius, including sceptics, saw the sun dance) spring to mind, although this is only a few claims that could be brought forth. These should be thoroughly investigated, before being dismissed a priori.

Evangelicals for the most part do not find the miracles of Lourdes credible. Pentecostalists also claim miracles today which most evangelicals and probably you, yourself, do not accept. People tend to accept miracles as legitimate if they occur within their particular religious tradition. They tend to reject them if they do not.

4. Why do vast numbers of Christians still believe in the imminent end of the world when the New Testament states clearly that the apocalypse was supposed to happen 2,000 years ago, during the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries?

Miksa replies:
First, the claim that that was supposed to be the time of the apocalypse has been disputed. Second, and more importantly, as a Catholic, I see the New Testament through the interpretation of the Magisterium and thus, this is not a problem and it was not claimed by Catholicism.

The reason that the claim has been disputed is because the apocalypse did not take place and Christians have had to scramble to come up with an answer to the problem. I think the Preterist solution is an example of a concocted solution. I find Preterism lacking because the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE does not fulfill all the things associated with the biblical prophecies. For example, Jesus did not return visibly and resurrect his followers. Paul expected the return of Jesus before he died (see 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:15-16).

5. Why do Christians believe in the soul when neurology has found clear evidence that the sense of identity and personality can be altered by physical changes to the brain?
RD Miksa writes:
Interesting to make such a bold and unsubstantiated claim that somehow physical changes to the brain disprove the soul as dualist have long ago put this objection to bed. But again, through a simple analogy: if I crack the screen of a TV or take out some of its internal components or unplug the power, this will change the image on the TV in some way and distort the signal being sent, but this does not mean that the signal is coming from inside the TV itself. The signal is external, but the presentation of the signal is affected by the physical changes to the TV.


This is probably one of the questions I would have omitted if I were constructing the list. I am not sure how much weight, if any, this argument holds.

I could not find a response from RD Miksa on questions 6 and 7.

8. Why didn't God create human beings such that they freely desire to do good, thus removing the need to create a Hell at all? (If you believe this is impossible, isn't this the state that will exist in Heaven?)

RD Miksa says:
It is impossible. In heaven, free will is removed and only God’s will is done. Thus heaven is a state of no suffering but subsequently no freedom. Hell, by contrast, is a state of full freedom but also the suffering that must accompany it.

If your god is omnipotent, then I don't see why its impossible. If, as Molinism holds, there are some conditions in which a person will believe and others in which he won't, then it seems to me that an omnipotent and omnisicient being could figure out a way to create a world in which all freely believe.

9.Is it fair or rational for God to hide himself so that he can only be known by faith, then insist that every single human being find him by picking the right one out of thousands of conflicting and incompatible religions?

RD Miksa responds:

The Catholic position is that God’s bare and basic existence can be known by reason alone—which is how the pagan Greek philosophers determined His existence—but that the Triune God’s specific characteristics require revelation. However, to get to the particular point, as the Catholic Church teaches that even those of other faiths—if they are in invincible ignorance and strive for the moral good through the natural law written on all hearts—can be granted salvation.

This may be true of Roman Catholicism but its not of evangelicalism. At least not the conservative element of which I am most familiar.

Miksa continues:
The Christian, furthermore, can point out that God has not hidden Himself, but came into history through Jesus Christ and is thus historically knowable to man. All this makes God current method of presentation completely fair and fully rational, even allowing those that want nothing to do with Him and actively disbelieve in Him the freedom to do so, which would not be so if He fully presented Himself.

Even if I were to accept that Jesus is the revelation of God, there is still the problem of all those who have lived and died without even hearing the name of Jesus. Paul makes it clear that one cannot call upon the name of Jesus if they have not heard of him. Thus the need for evangelism and missions (Rom. 10:13-14).

10. If you had the power to help all people who are suffering or in need, at no cost or effort to yourself, would you do it? If so, why hasn't God done this already?

RD Miksa answers:
No. Just the other day, I took away a toy from my 15 month old daughter who screamed and cried for ten minutes because of it. She was clearly suffering because of my action, but she also needed to learn discipline as well as the fact that she does not always get what she wants. Suffering is not nearly the biggest problem in this world, nor is my or other’s personal happiness.

I think your analogy is misguided. Certainly there are times when pain is necessary in order to accomplish a greater good. Surgery comes to mind. However, that is far different than what I am referring to. For example, the suffering taking place in Haiti. One could argue that ultimately it could make Haiti a better place but how does that help the individuals who were buried alive and wound up dying a horrific death?

So, as I said at the beginning of the post, there are Christian answers to the questions posed, but the issue is are these answers probable or contrived?

23 comments:

  1. The answer to number 10 really bothers me.

    What if I'm sitting in my room with my girlfriend and some robber comes in and tries to rape my girlfriend. According to this "greater good" apologetic (like taking a toy away from a toddler), I should let the rapist rape my girlfriend. If the Christian god had commanded the rapist to rape my girlfriend, it would even be considered immoral for me to try to stop him.

    If all suffering is just for some "greater good", then it just means that life is amoral. Any and every moral or immoral action could be considered for some "greater good". Stopping the rapist from raping my girlfriend would be moral. But then, not stopping the rapist from raping my girlfriend would also be moral (under the greater good).

    There's no way I would let some rapist rape my girlfriend; so number 10 is disgustingly contrived.

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  2. I enjoyed this post. I think the Christians' answers do seem contrived and not convincing. Maybe their answers are correct, but they don't feel too solid to me.
    I do like his answer that if you are moral, you can still get in to heaven sometimes. Sure sounds nicer than the fundamentalists' beliefs we grew up in.

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  3. "There was no such thing as today’s naturalistic-unbelieving-atheist in Biblical times. Everyone believed in some type of deity or deities, so the only question was which deity, not whether said deity existed or not."

    Want to take bets on that?

    Protagoras (490-420BCE) - "Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life."

    Diagoras of Melos (5th Century BCE) - As described by the 2nd Century Christian writer Athenagoras of Athens - "With reason did the Athenians adjudge Diagoras guilty of atheism, in that he not only divulged the Orphic doctrine, and published the mysteries of Eleusis and of the Cabiri, and chopped up the wooden statue of Hercules to boil his turnips, but openly declared that there was no God at all."

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  4. "There was no such thing as today’s naturalistic-unbelieving-atheist in Biblical times. Everyone believed in some type of deity or deities, so the only question was which deity, not whether said deity existed or not."

    Also, thought of this at lunch, wouldn't that make verses, like Psalm 14:1 - "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good." and Romans 1:20 - "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.", a bit confusing if no one ever made claims that there was no God or no evidence for the divine?

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  5. I'm with the guy that is turned off by the answer to #10 - I list it among my reasons for atheism. Rather than answering the question, they negate the possibility of good, thus undermining the claim of God's goodness indirectly.

    I'm not big on this list of challenges. But I think #4 has more strength than you give it credit for, especially if one expands it to cover every aspect of consciousness or what is sometimes attributed to the 'soul' - especially including personal identity and memory, and its inseparability from and identity with the underlying neural processes.

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  6. #8. Of course it is possible for the Almighty to create human beings that only desire to do good. Since the Almighty is infinite, He doesn’t need anything from us. He created us to give us the greatest pleasure.

    There isn’t anything written in the bible addressing our state of being in heaven. In fact very little is written about heaven. Maybe we know enough to freely desire to do good.

    First according to the Hebrews (Jewish people) there is no burning/suffering in hell for eternity. After all this is their book. What purpose would eternal punishment serve? Your sin (another word that needs a Jewish definition for understanding the Hebrew Bible) is finite, time limited. Any punishment is also time limited. And what about the people who realize that they made a mistake and change their ways? What does the bible say about forgiveness?

    Is it just me that thinks it is odd for the Almighty to place Adam in the garden and give him a rule, not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Certainly the Almighty knows that Adam will eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Maybe he’s not suppose to eat from it because he doesn’t have the wisdom to know what to do with the knowledge of good and evil. Wisdom and knowledge are two different things. But what about the Tree of Life? What happens if you eat from that tree? And why does the Almighty put Cherubim and the flame of the ever-turning sword to guard the Tree of Life, to safeguard the path, so that man can find his way back there?

    The “tree of life” is found only a few places in the bible. The next place “tree of life” appears in the Hebrew bible is in Proverbs 3:18 - It is a tree of life to those who grasp it and its supporters are praiseworthy. The Torah is compared to the tree of life. The Torah is wisdom for living.

    The Almighty creates Adam and places him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it. You wouldn’t know that the Almighty gave Adam the task of guarding the garden if you read it in the Christians translations. The word for guard is shin, mem, resh. It is the same word that is used for the Cherubim guarding the way back to the Tree of Life.

    Where is the next place that we find Cherubim? Exodus 25 - The Cherubim are placed on the cover to the ark. Are they guarding the ark which contains the tree of life? The way back to the Almighty?

    So, it seems to me that mankind is given free will - the ability to correct/repair his mistake. To find his way back to the Garden of Eden - to return. The process of returning to the correct path. Which is exactly what the Almighty says to Cain. Genesis 4:6-7 “Why are you annoyed and why has your countenance fallen? Surely if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door. Its desire is toward you yet you can conquer it.”

    Finding our way back and conquering sin is more satisfying, more pleasurable, more permanent, than being preprogrammed to be perfect. The knowledge that you now have about life - the pain, the suffering, the frustrations - wouldn’t you re-choose not to leave the garden? But how would you know unless you experienced this life? And if you found your way back wouldn’t you want to share that wisdom with everyone?

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  7. Dear Mr. K. Pulliam,

    As I stated in my e-mail to you, I will answer all of your responses at some point in the near future, but due to time restrictions currently (shift work and a baby and a family) I am unable to do so now in sufficient detail. I will, however, make a few quick comments reference some of the comments posts.

    More to follow...

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

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  8. Good Day BeamStalk,

    Two points:

    1. I need to be more detailed and clear.

    2. You need to thoroughly read what I wrote.

    The naturalistic-unbelieving-atheist is one that believes that all we are is matter and nothing else. No soul, no afterlife, no ghosts, no spirits, no pantheism, no "Force", etc., etc. That is the reasons that I use that term rather than just atheist. Some Buddhists are atheists, that does not mean they are naturalistic-unbelieving-atheists. And as such, none of the individuals that you quoted harm my point, which still stands.

    Yours in Christ and the Church,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

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  9. Good Day J. Quinton,

    If I may say, I believe that you have failed to fully grasp the specifics of Question 10. It was a question about suffering and its alleviation, not about moral good or evil. The question was: Would I alleviate suffering if I could? My reason is no, because I do not view suffering as a necessary moral evil, but rather as a potentially moral good. Essentially, suffering is not the moral end all and be all.

    Furthermore, your example actually backfires against your point. Why? Because of the following: a rapist comes to rape your girlfriend but before he does so, you attack him. During your struggle, you suffer greatly as the rapist bites you, hits you and stabs you. Now would you want me to remove your suffering and thereby allow the rapist to succeed? Or would you rather suffer but in so doing prevent the rapist?

    Think about this.

    Yours in Christ and the Church,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

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  10. I was also puzzled by RD Miksa's statement about the Canaanite children getting killed so their parents could repent, for I thought the Conquest was supposed to occur in one fell swoop and take all the Canaanites out. That's what occurs in some places in Joshua. But I wondered if RD had in mind the passage where the dispossession is said to occur "little by little"---which would give people time to repent (I guess).

    Also, I think Deuteronomy 20 is relevant to the Conquest. For those outside the land, the males are killed. For those inside the land, everyone is killed.

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  11. Hello All,

    Answers to Questions 6 & 7 are now posted on the other thread.

    RD Miksa

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  12. RD Miksa,

    So you get to define atheist, to exclude certain people that don't fit your point. By the way, Diagoras of Melos still fits your description. He was a disciple of Democritus. Democritus was a materialist and believed that the world was controlled by natural laws. Democritus never said that Gods don't exist, but that if they do they cannot affect the world. Diagoras took this one step further and said gods do not exist.

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  13. Good Day Again BeamStalk,

    "So you get to define atheist, to exclude certain people that don't fit your point."

    Again, you did not read what I wrote. Had I said just "atheist" , then your point would stand, but I did not. I said a naturalistic-atheist for a reason. For example, a many Buddhists are an atheists, but not as Richard Dawkins is an atheist, because he is a naturalistic-atheist that denies many of the "supernatural" (I hate that word) elements that Buddhists would hold as true.

    The distinction is clear and my point stands.

    ake care,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

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  14. Sorry for the grammatical errors in the last post.

    RD Miksa

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. Hello Again Mr. K. Pullium,

    As I stated, I would be responding to your responses, so here they are. Let me just add that I am grateful for your reply, as it creates a very interested discussion.

    Before starting, let me just reiterate that my three caveats still stand. And let me make some introductory comments and rebuttals before getting into the questions.


    You stated:

    Please remember that I said in my original post that I also had "answers" to each of these questions. I provided these answers to my students when I was a College instructor. However, as I also said, I was never fully satisfied with my answers. On further reflection, they seemed to be contrived and thus, while theoretically possible, I did not find them probable.

    This is both acknowledged and accepted, but the determination of whether such answers seem contrived or not is a wholly subjective assessment and thus counts little for an objective argument. Now there is nothing wrong with making a decision based on subjective elements, as we do so daily, but what must be accepted is that these subjective determinations of probability or not do not have a great deal of exterior argumentative power. What I would suggest is determining if the answers—as long as they are operating in the same intellectual domain as the questions asked—to the problem questions provide a defence of the difficulty raised. If the answers do provide such a defence, then the force of the objection that the question raises is invalidated. Thus as long as my answers are theoretically possible, as you admit, then your subjective determination of their improbability is as valid as my determination of their probability.



    Fair enough but keep in mind that my blog is entitled, Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity, not Why I De-Converted from Roman Catholicism. My background and experience is from the evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant tradition. Thus, these questions are primarily directed at people in that same tradition. If I were going to write 10 Questions to Ask Your Priest, I would include an entirely different set of questions.

    Acknowledged—and I hope you do write those other ten questions as I would love to answer them—but this issue in and of itself raises some other questions:

    1. I am assuming that you believe Christianity to now be false, but how can you rationally and objectively hold such a position when you admittedly stated that you come from and only know one Christian tradition (which I would argue, just to point out, as only partial truth)?
    2. Why did you not explore other Christian traditions before your de-conversion? (Perhaps you did...)
    3. You state that you are an agnostic? Why is that? Why not a rationalist theist or a deist, which would permit you to reject Christianity but not God, as the two are not dependant on each other?



    Understood. Blogs do not lend themselves to in-depth discussion of topics. Whole books have been written on most of these questions and I would encourage the serious student to read them.

    I would second this motion, but simply add that an investigation of the Christianity/Atheist issue is not restricted to Evangelical Christianity. One should investigate full spectrum of Christian answers, as such difficulties for one Christian tradition are by no means a difficulty for others.

    The answers to the questions will follow, although I will answer them one by one.

    God Bless,

    RD Miksa
    Radosmiksa.blogspot.com

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  17. Question 1:

    “1. Why is God called loving or merciful when, in the Old Testament's stories of the Israelite conquest, he specifically orders his chosen people to massacre their enemies, showing no mercy to men, women, even children and animals?”

    First, let me just say that I found the vast majority of your response to this question to be off topic and besides the point, for you confused the issue by answering “how” you thought the Israelites came to accept and follow these commands, instead of “whether” these commands could be reconciled with God’s love. To make a quick analogy, it was like you answered the question “How it belief in God arise?”, when the actual question was “What are the arguments for God’s existence?” This is a serious category error that subtly shifts the argument and may catch the unwary reader off-guard, thus giving your point a false strength that it does not deserve.

    Now you stated the following about the sum of my answer:

    “I find this answer to be "ad-hoc." There is no basis in the biblical texts that deal with the genocides to come to this conclusion. While theoretically it could be correct, it does not seem probable.”

    But as initially pointed out, you change and shift the subject of the question. I was not asked to provide a biblical basis for the conclusion that I arrived at. I was asked a philosophical/theology question: How do we reconcile God’s love with his commands to kill the innocent? And I provided a theoretically correct answer using the philosophical and theological tradition of Molinism. Now you may take issue with this philosophical position, but do not twist the question from a philosophical one to a scriptural one.

    Question 1 continued...

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  18. Furthermore, there is a sufficient reason why this conclusion may not have been reached by the Old Testament authors and it ties to your initial answer to the question. In that initial answer portion, you cite certain scholarly authorities and contend four main points: A) That many gods during the time that such commands were given by Yahweh were giving similar command; B) That humans were viewed as the highest sacrifice in those times and that is why the commands were given; C) And if Yahweh is the one true and holy god, he should be different than the other gods in the area; D) And that taking these three points into consideration, it is more probable and less contrived that your view than my answer.
    Again, leaving aside the category error here, let me make a bold move and accept these two points but still show—via an analogy—that you are incorrect in your assessment:

    A Father and his Son (capitalized for ease of recognition) live in a crime ridden town. Now all the other fathers and sons in the area are evil and immoral. The Son, furthermore, has also become corrupted and evil, spending much of his time outside the house (not with his Father) with other sons and other fathers. And while the Son does listen to his Father often, he does not do so always. Now the Father is a moral, noble, just and loving man. One day, the Father tells his Son: “Go to the street corner, beat the boy there till he leaves the area and never comes back and then stay on the corner and hold it, not allowing anyone to take it back.” Now the Son may think that his Father is a blood-thirsty and brutal father, just as all the others are, and that the Father only issued this command because he wishes to take control of the street-corner, show his dominance and assert his authority our all others in the harshest manner while giving his Son the glory of being the new street-corner thug. The Father, however, knows that the boy on the street-corner that is about to be beat up is the most evil, immoral boy in the town, who is the biggest drug-dealer and thug. Furthermore, the Father knows that only by getting a good beat-down will the boy have a chance for repentance, which may not only reform him, but transform the entire town for the better. Finally, the Father knows that he cannot tell his Son all this information because his Son is already corrupted and if the Son knew the whole story and the Father’s whole intention and reason for commanding what he did, the Son would either not do it or do it in a manner that would ruin the Father’s aim for moral improvement. And thus the Father is different from all the others, even though his Son may not realize it at the time that the command is issued.

    Thus in this analogy, it is possible to see that I can even accept your claims (for the sake of argument only, as many scholars clearly dispute that Yahweh was the same as other gods during the time) and still show my presented explanation and answer to be valid.

    Question 1 continued...

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  19. Now for some side issues:

    “1. Man's moral understanding has greatly evolved since the Bronze Age. Today, in the USA at least, we take great efforts to avoid killing anyone who is not a military combatant. We recognize that every civilian in a population is not necessarily in agreement with their government or leaders in fighting the war and therefore not culpable.”

    Your argument here is flawed. And I wish to state that as a former Canadian military officer that actually made real-life targeting decisions to kill people, I know what I am speaking of. Your argument is flawed because even today, the military realizes that certain targets are worth the collateral damage that may accompany the destruction of that target. In fact, we had specific calculations to determine which targets were worth how many civilian casualties. For a hypothetical example, if we could kill Osama Bin Laden, but had to kill 30 woman and children to do so, we would be ordered to do so in this case, as the target was worth it. Thus we would have literally be ordered to kill woman and children. And so your point, once explained, actually supports my position, not yours. For why could the same argument not be made for the Old Testament Israelites? (I might additionally state that it is questionable that our moral understanding has evolved since the Bronze Age, as history attests to the 20th Century being the most brutal in history, but this is a topic for another blog post.)

    Question 1 continued...

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  20. Finally, I wish to address this point that you made:

    “Furthermore, it creates the problem that RD Miksa and Michael Mock argued over in the comment section of the post. Any religion that holds its actually a good thing to kill infants and toddlers is in my mind morally bankrupt and not worthy of my adherence.”

    I am disappointed with your remark here and I say this because if you did read the discussion I had with Mr. Mock, than you would know that my explanation was not as simple as you presented. Furthermore, Mr. Mock was courageous to admit that in the scenario I presented, he would kill infants as well. So I present the scenario to you and ask you to honestly answer what you would do:

    Now I have a question for you. Consider this hypothetical situation, where you know all facts and statements to be true. The Christian God (who you are certain is God in this situation) wants you to kill Baby A, who will immediately be granted eternal life. God also tells you that Baby A wishes to be in heaven with God and desires this in all possible worlds, which means that killing him in this world would not violate his free will. Furthermore, if you kill this Baby A, ten criminals will repent of their sins and become extremely moral and productive citizens, helping thousands of people, while also being granted eternal life. In addition, by killing the baby, you will ensure that it does not suffer whatsoever in this life. Thus by killing the baby, you know that you have given the baby what it wants, prevented the baby from any suffering and saved ten people eternally and helped thousands of people temporally. By contrast, if you do not kill the baby, then the Baby will have to suffer in this life, ten people will be eternally lost in pain and thousands of people will not have their temporal suffering alleviated. With this in mind, would you kill Baby A?

    Question 1 complete.

    Thank you for your great blog. Answers to all other questions will come when I have time.

    This exchange will be cross-posted on my blog.

    God Bless,

    RD Miksa
    Radosmiksa.blogspot.com

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  21. And I will still stand by Diagoras of Melos, as a naturalistic atheist.

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  22. RD Miksa - I apologize for bowing out as early as I did. It was not because I'd run out of responses, but because - like you - I'd run out of time. If you don't mind dropping back to the original thread, I have added some further resposes... among them, pointing out that (I think) our contention over the first question is partly because you yourself are trying to answer more than the question strictly asks.

    If you'd prefer, I can copy those replies here, or even on your own blog; but I think the continuity will be better preserved if you answer on the original thread.

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  23. Good Day Mr. Mock,

    Great to hear from you again and please note that I am aware that you responded to the previous thread. I will try to respond fully tomorrow.

    Take care, thank you and God bless,

    RD MIksa

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